South African start to 2016 ICF Classic Series

Underberg – The ICF Classic Series gets underway this weekend against the picturesque backdrop of the Southern Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa when the action from the first leg of the global circuit unfolds at the much anticipated 23rd edition of the two day, 62km N3TC Drak Challenge on Saturday, 24 and Sunday, 25 January.

With the crystal clear waters of the mighty uMzimkhulu River and breathtakingly beautiful mountainous setting, the paddling showcase traditionally sees close to 1000 paddlers journey to the small towns of Underberg and Himeville at the foothills of the Southern Drakensberg for a weekend of spectacular paddling adventure.

The tussle for 2016’s men’s title, touted pre-race as a clash of the Drak’s big five, is set to be another hotly contested affair as Hank McGregor (Euro Steel/Kayak Centre), Andy Birkett (Euro Steel), Lance Kime (Euro Steel), Jasper Mocké (Euro Steel/Mocké Paddling) and Ant Stott (Matelec/Pope’s Canoe Centre)battle it out from Castleburn to Hopewell Farm.

The group’s pedigree is undoubted.  McGregor is a six time ICF Canoe Marathon World Champ and three time Drak Challenge winner, Birkett a former U23 Marathon World Champ and double defending Drak Challenge champ, Kime the 2015 Drak Challenge runner-up, Mocké a 2014 K2 Marathon World Champs gold medalist and Stott is the undisputed “King of the Drak” with a record six victories at the event.

The hugely talented quintet  will however be closely challenged by the next tier of South Africa’s endless river marathon talent pool, all eager to mix it up with the best in the business and earn a podium or top five finish at this coveted KZN race.

Brandon van der Walt (Euro Steel/Kayak Racing), Owen Gandar and Andrew Houston (USN) have all impressed in this race previously and have a love for the uMzimkhulu River that may well see them become the cat amongst the ‘big five’s’ pigeons.

The race for the final few top ten positions is likely to be just as fascinating as the challenge for the overall spoils after former Surfski World Champ Sean Rice, 2014 Dusi winner Sbonelo Khwela (Euro Steel/Red Bull) and 2015 Hansa Fish winner Greg Louw (Knysna Racing/Merrell) all confirmed their participation recently.

Jakub Adam will add an international flavor to the mouth-watering mix and the Czech Republic star will hope for a strong showing in Underberg this weekend ahead of his FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon assault with Jason Graham in February.

The women’s race will be no less enthralling as Abby Solms (neé Adie) looks to continue her remarkable stranglehold on the event that has seen her claim five of the last six ladies titles.

The Euro Steel star will however undoubtedly be pushed hard by 2014 and 2015 Under-23 Marathon World Championships bronze medalist Jenna Ward while Jen Theron, Tamika Haw, Hayley Arthur, Donna Tutton and Kerry Segal battle it out for the remaining top five places.

With much of South Africa currently ravaged by drought brought on by the El Nino cycle, many are preparing for a low river level for this weekend’s Drak Challenge despite sporadic overnight showers helping improve conditions slightly each day.

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